“May I, monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?”
This is the opening of Albert Camus’ novela “The Fall” as a vivid monologue in the “First Person” perspective, where the “I” and “you” used by a single person creates a dynamic and intriguing narration in fiction.
The main character, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a judge residing in Amsterdam, tries to help a foreigner in a bar to order drinks while starting a conversation about the bartender’s bad temper and the city. “Are you staying long in Amsterdam? A beautiful city, isn’t it? Fascinated?” The dialogue continues but we, the readers, only can hear the narrator and imagine what the other unknown character replies.
“You’re leaving already? Forgive me for having perhaps detained you. No, I beg you; I won’t let you pay”. A relationship has been established between two persons as the judge answers, “I shall certainly be here tomorrow, as I am every evening, and I shall be pleased to accept your invitation.
The two characters will meet again and a conversation will continue with Clamence’s voice revealing his background, his personal existential problems including a past experience that changed his life and makes him discover how empty and absurd his life was before.
Other writers such as Sandor Marai and Walker Percy, they both distinctively adopt the ”First Person” style in their novels Portraits of a Marriage and Lancelot which are full of wonderful introspective dialogues and clearly reveal the main characters’ internal emotions and their past.
Albert Camus, a 1957 Nobel Prize winner in literature, is one of the most influential French existentialist writers who have succeeded in applying the beauty of excellent literary skills on philosophy. An optimist but also a nostalgic solitary rebel, as the title of one of his most important essays L’Homme révolté suggests, he openly opposed the totalitarianism of what he described as “fallen revolutions” and “worn-out ideologies”, i.e. Communism and Fascism, which inspired the destructive mass movements. He was not afraid to be isolated by opposing the popular ideas at that time, which led him to break with Sartre and other powerful intellectuals in the 50s that dominated the cultural scene in France. Unfortunately Camus died relatively young in a tragic car accident in 1960.
He sought solitude and the belief that a personal experience could be a persuasive reference for literary and philosophical writing which are reflected in his works especially notably in The Fall, a truly engaging novella which I think everybody should read.
1. Albert Camus. “The Fall.” Translated from the French by Justin O’Brien, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. iBooks. https://itun.es/us/K4JkH.l